From his occasional series of the latest book reviews, Iain Robertson has read an autobiographical novel, an autobiography, a book about an Irish racing driver and, finally, a Porschephile from Sheffield, ‘what done good’.
ISBN: 978 1 78456 474 2
By Garry Curtis
If you like your stories to be rough and ready, peppered with cuss-words but certainly not lacking in grittiness, then grab a copy of ‘Incoming!’ This is no ordinary war story (or group of them) but is one man’s account of his life in that theatre. All too easily, he could have been a ‘bad ’un’; a London environs youngster with limited focus but given one by the Royal Marines. Seemingly unafraid of almost anything, Mr Curtis can be confrontational, divisive, arrogant and anything but self-effacing. It is said that we make out own good luck, it does not just happen, but the author is sometimes blinded by circumstances. By the same token, his bravery is never in doubt and making snap decisions, in his subsequent and predominant role as a security ‘fixer’ in war-torn hell-holes, is something at which he is highly adept. The man’s ‘life story’ is one of derring-do that is littered with countless amusing anecdotes, in some respects not dissimilar to ‘gallows’ humour’. Yet, despite his handful of irrational decisions, perhaps one of the most poignant is an entire chapter dedicated to his attempted suicide. Elsewhere, a great many of the hot-spots featured are familiar to readers, because they have figured so heavily in broadcast news stories and it is those very newcasters and foreign correspondents that owe their lives and careers to Mr Curtis, judging by a large chapter towards the end of this very engaging book (407pp) that details verbatim the letters of gratitude and references provided to the man. The book’s contents are detailed and more than slightly scatter-gun in their order, yet that also brings a movie quality to the text and I could see British character actor, Tom Hardy, relishing the role as Garry Curtis. A fantastically colourful read, if your stomach can stand it!
A Charmed ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ Life
ISBN: 9781 910878 866
By Robin Le Mesurier
The Book Guild
There exists an uncanny similarity between the roads travelled, what they do to the travellers and how they look today, after travelling for upwards of five decades in the rock music business. Famed Rolling Stone, Keith Richards, is a prime example and fuelled equally by fame and fortune, let alone the more than occasional vodka-Martini cocktail, Robin Le Mesurier fits the bill to perfection. The son of famous and much adored acting parents, Hattie Jacques and John Le Mesurier, a Bohemian London upbringing was inevitable for the younger Robin. Although talented enough to be offered a place at the Royal College of Music, Robin elected to pursue the more exciting rock and roll direction and began a stellar career as an ‘axe for hire’, roister-doistering it around the world with the likes of Rod Stewart and Jonny Hallyday, among a cast of other top performers and consumers of excess. In fact, his playing has been central to the world’s Top 20 rockers for much of his working life. Yet, scaling nearly every peak demands readiness for a rapid descent and Robin has experienced them too, in a life that has seldom been less than glamorous and totally jet-set. However, what makes this book enjoyably readable is not just a Richards-like propensity for the faintly ludicrous but Robin’s disarming frankness and lack of arrogance. As a what-you-see-is-what-you-get character, he is never less than charming and his life’s record is spinning again, with almost as much vigour as it did, when he started on that graveled road.
Crashed and Byrned – The Greatest Racing Driver You Never Saw
ISBN: 978 1 52720 612 0
By Tommy Byrne and Mark Hughes
Published originally in 2008 (it was a sell-out success), the Tommy Byrne story is actually a lot more than just the typical rise and fall tale that accompanies an endless array of racing drivers that could-have-made-it-had-they-enough-ackers. Although he nowadays teaches young drivers, from his Florida base, the 59-years old former racer quit competition in 1992, after a modest run of US successes. Yet, his meteoric rise from the Dundalk slums of Northern Ireland, where his wit kept him out of sectarian harm’s way, to a test session with the top McLaren F1 team, even though he ended up driving for the poorly-funded Theodore Team, attracted minor attention beyond the tilted halo regard of his homeland. We all know of faltering stars…sportspeople, who should have made the grade but could not, because of their undoubted flaws. Byrne is just another. Yet, his ability to tell a story, in a genuine blood and guts way, is what makes this book so fantastically enjoyable. It is not just a reprint, as it has been embellished and updated since the ‘Crashed & Byrned’ documentary was televised last year. The writing style is brilliant (surely Mr Hughes’ core responsibility) but the story is phenomenal, whether you like motor racing, or not. It is one of my favourite reads of this summer.
Magnus Walker – Urban Outlaw
ISBN: 978 0 593 07784 9
By Magnus Walker
Recommended to me by a very good friend (journalist, John Griffiths), who hosted an evening meet-and-greet for author Magnus Walker, ‘Urban Outlaw’ is, in short, the story of a self-made man. Mr Walker was born in Sheffield, at a time when its supportive steel and coal industries were being decimated by politicians and, let’s face it, very poor management of both. A bit of a drifter, possessing a limited school education but an innate desire to dabble with motorcars, it took a one-way ticket and a sense of ‘no return’ to give him a purpose in life. From his LA base, he established Serious Clothing, which soon became the ‘go to’ outfitter for the likes of Madonna and Alice Cooper. Not exactly renowned for their sartorial elegance, you will get an idea as to the ‘lived-in’ style that he posited, which is about as anti-establishment as the vast majority of his clientele. While education may have passed him by, he certainly possessed the nuts to build a money-making enterprise that soon broadened into property development and even film location-finding. Now a multi-millionaire, his is the true story of a rags-to-riches mentality that harbours its own unique brand of inspiration. He also collects Porsches of all makes and modifications, which means that this story is a sure-fire read for the real enthusiast.